For several weeks in 1927, the residents of Santa Ana, California were glued to their newspapers, eager to learn the latest details of possibly the most curious case in Orange County legal annals. The case in question culminated in a three-day trial in county court.
What was it that garnered multiple newspaper headlines and monopolized the Orange County judicial system for that amount of time? If you go looking for stories of the trial of a serial killer, the contested probate of a multi-millionaire’s estate, or a mysterious legal drama involving national security, your search will be in vain. Instead, you will encounter the nail-biting drama of Rev. and Mrs. N.F. Jensen and the unrequited sandwich.
The first clue given to the unsuspecting public about the juicy domestic drama that was about to unfold appeared in the February 7, 1927, issue of the Los Angeles Evening Post-Record. It was a brief notice that the legal proceedings between Rev. (Nanhe) N.F. Jensen and his wife, Minnie Jensen, were being transferred to Orange County Superior Court. The notice also included the spicy little detail that Mrs. Jensen was accusing her husband, a former Lutheran pastor, “with paying undue attention to a certain prominent woman member of his church.”
It appears that Rev. and Mrs. Jensen had been separated for some time. Mrs. Jensen had sought and received the right to temporary alimony payments of $60 per month from her estranged husband during the time of this separation. This money had not been forthcoming, however, thus compelling her to take her husband to court to enforce the payments.
It was Mrs. Jensen’s additional accusations that caused the true sensation. According to the February 19, 1927 edition of the Santa Ana Register, the courtroom was packed to hear the salacious details of Rev. Jensen’s “unduly attentive” actions toward this prominent woman. Those who were expecting the hot and spicy details waited in vain, however. The newspaper account reports, “If the crowd expected to hear these charges aired yesterday, it was disappointed, as the hearing was concerned only with the defendant’s ability to pay his wife alimony and the necessity for it. The proceedings were brief and dealt not at all with Mrs. Jensen’s accusations….”
The proceedings began with some procedural drama. Rev. Jensen’s attorney, Fred C. Drumm, declared, “It appears that I, of all the people in Orange and vicinity, was unaware that this hearing was set for this time.” He explained that although his client received notice of the hearing, he did not. He was, however, prepared to proceed without asking for postponement, but he cautioned that he did not have the time to prepare for the hearing that he would have preferred.
It was at this hearing, however, that a few details emerged about the identity of the heretofore-unnamed “prominent woman.” Mrs. Mathilda Grote (alternately spelled as “Matilda” in some sources), was the wife of prominent businessman Fred Grote, both of whom were members of Rev. Jensen’s church.
Mr. Grote’s name came up on the witness stand as Rev. Jensen attempted to explain why his financial circumstances prevented him from paying the alimony sought by his wife. He testified that he had to reach out to Mr. Grote on more than one occasion to get loans to help finance Jensen’s education through chiropractic college. Mr. Grote not only lent him money for tuition but also purchased gas and oil for Jensen’s automobile. This, said Jensen’s attorney, was proof indeed that Rev. Jensen lacked the funds to pay his wife. To this, Mrs. Jensen’s attorney responded, “We don’t care whose money we get. We’d just as soon take Fred Grote’s money for this as that of anyone else.”
It was also noted for the court that Mr. Grote had full confidence in his former pastor and found the charges linking Rev. Jensen with his wife to be ridiculous. As to what those mysterious charges were, however, those who were watching the proceedings remained in the dark.
By the end of the hearing, Superior Judge E.J. Marks decided he had heard enough. He told Rev. Jensen that he had no right to “become a schoolboy” and leave his wife and son to fend for themselves. He ordered the former pastor to pay $60 per month to Mrs. Jensen.
It would not be until several months later that more details of this nefarious scandal were made known to a waiting public.
On July 27, the courtroom was once again packed. This time, the court would deal with the lurid accusations Mrs. Jenkins had leveled against her husband. It was then that the world learned that everything hinged upon a sandwich. Well, two sandwiches, to be precise.
It all started at a church picnic, explained Mrs. Jensen to an attentive courtroom. “One day he refused a bite from my sandwich, but went right over and smilingly helped himself to a bite from hers,” she said.
Having thus thrown down the gauntlet of her legal case, the celebrated case of Jensen v Jensen went to trial. That trial lasted for three days.
That’s right…. THREE DAYS.
The full extent of the testimony and/or physical evidence presented during these three days is sadly missing from the various newspaper articles. We do know from this article from The Los Angeles Times that Mrs. Jensen asked the president of the congregation and several high dignitaries within the Lutheran Church to speak with her husband about his indiscretions. She also testified about going to the beach and watching her husband and daughter get knocked over by a wave, only to see him emerge from the water, holding the hand of a strange woman.
Despite all of this, on the third day of the trial, well after 5:00 p.m., Rev. Jensen’s attorney stood up and moved that the case be dismissed for lack of evidence. The court agreed, concluding that there was insufficient evidence to find that Rev. Jensen committed any indiscretions or that any misconduct could be attributed to Mrs. Grote.
Mrs. Jensen’s attorney did not object to the motion to dismiss and accepted the court’s determination that Rev. Jensen should pay $50 per month alimony until such a time that he could become sufficiently skilled as a chiropractor to permit making larger payments. This represented $10 less per month than had been ordered five months earlier, perhaps to compensate him for the indignity of defending himself — and Mrs. Grote — from accusations of inappropriate sandwich snacking.
As fascinating as the Jensen v Jensen saga is, the staff of the Research Department of Commonplace Fun Facts was at least as intrigued by some of the stories that appeared in adjacent spaces on the pages of the newspapers. For example, the article in the November 1, 1927 edition of The Windsor Star (Windsor, Ontario, Canada) devotes 76 words to the sad Jensen tale under the headline “The Pastor Seeks Pastures New.” Immediately below this article, under the headline “Keep Your Seats! Keep Your Seats!” is a bold-type sentence advising “‘Long Slashes Latest Vogue’ is merely the headline over a fashion item on the esteemed woman’s page and not, as you gents may have supposed, timely advice on how to slit hubby’s windpipe.”
Of even more interest to us, however, is the article immediately below that. Under the headline “Force of Habit,” is a startling news story that is reported, in its entirety, as follows: “The Duke of Dougall Avenue, who moved into a more modern apartment yesterday, reports that he caught his wife kissing the electric refrigerator.”
We can’t help but ask, “Huh?” We also can’t help but contemplate what on earth was going on in this household that prompted this incident being reported under the headline, “Force of Habit.”
Then there is this article from the July 28, 1927, edition of The Los Angeles Times, proclaiming “Minister Cleared of Blame.” As informative as that is, we can’t help but be drawn to the article immediately below it, detailing how authorities were probing reports of a “turkey ring” and stumbled upon “one of the largest wine vats ever discovered in Tulare County.”
The individuals who were implicated in this Prohibition-era turkey/wine bust were fined $300 on misdemeanor charges of liquor possession and $750 on felony turkey-theft charges.
We really, really, want to know a lot more about this nefarious felony-level grand larceny of turkeys that was of such serious magnitude that the other crime — not only a federal crime but, in fact, a violation of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States — barely gets a mention.
For that matter, we’re still scratching our heads about how the sandwich saga of Jensen v Jensen resulted in a bench trial that took three days! Granted, it wasn’t as long as the record-holding cases discussed here, but still…. three days?